Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Scandalous and Fabulous Therese, Madame Tallien

So one of my absolutely favorite ladies from the Revolution and Empire periods is the rather infamous Therese
 Cabarrus-de Fontenay-Tallien-de Chimay, or for short, Madame Tallien. In most histories of late 18th-century 
France, the French Revolution, or especially the Directory period immediately following the Terror, Therese 
Tallien's name never fails to pop up. Napoleon couldn't stand her and forbade her from his Imperial court; 
his wife Josephine was her best friend and snuck out to visit her (bwahaha. Joke's on you, Bonaparte!). Her 
heyday was from 1794 to about 1800, when the morally relaxed Directory period reigned, and Therese was 
perched firmly at the pinnacle of bourgeois society, reigning benevolently in her gossamer Greek gowns (often 
worn with no underwear), pink and blonde wigs, and bejeweled toe rings. She was beautiful, rich, kind, and 
passionate; but also headstrong, impulsive, and childish. Best of all, she did exactly what she please and made 
no bones about it!    

 This is one of the most well-known portraits of Therese, done by the famous artist Francois, Baron Gerard, in 
1804. It hangs in the Carnavelet Museum in Paris, and everytime I am there I make a beeline for it, placed as 
it is just next to Gerard's gorgeous portrait of Juliette and Appiani's portrait of Fortunee Hamelin in Italy. It's a 
dose of Directorial and Merveilleuse beauty all in one heady shot! I made the portrait here really big so you 
can see exactly how TALL Therese was--she was very tall, especially for the time period! Apparently she didn't
 like to dance because she was well-aware of her height and felt awkward lumbering out on the dance floor. You 
can't really blame her. I also love the slight smile on her face--as though she's secretly laughing at all of this
 (which she probably was). She had money (her father was a Spanish finance guru at the court of Charles III) 
and the portrait definitely shows off the luminous, beautiful quality of Therese's Neoclassical dresses--layers of 
light, silky beauty. I love the the little gold brooch fastened just under her bust, with matching clips on her 
shoulder sleeves. Her huge pink shawl has a beautiful border, and really compliments that flower garden she's 
got in her hair (why was this so popular? There are so many portraits of these chicks with a huge headband of 
roses. It looks odd.) Her little booty slippers have this pearly sheen to them too. She looks like a dreamy roman 
goddess!   Therese was originally from Spain, born to an upper middle-class family in Madrid. Her given name 
was Juana María Ignazia Teresa de Cabarrús y Galabert (thank youuuu wikipedia!), but she was generally just 
called Theresa, or Therese, in French. She was very close to her father, who loved her dearly and always indulged
 his little girl, but she was never close to her mother and never felt any love from the woman. 

 The father of Therese, Francois Cabarrus. This portrait was done by the famous Goya! Her father looks 
attentive and very intelligent. When her father went virtually bankrupt and was imprisoned in Spain under 
very harsh conditions in the late 1780's, Therese famously begged the Marquis de Lafayette to lend her his 
entire National Guard so that she could ride to his rescue! Somehow, I think she would have done it, too.At the 
ripe old age of 14 (it still amazes me how these parents sacrificed their young, vulnerable girls to the marriage
 bed at such a tender age!) she married the grizzly Jean-Jacques Devin, Marquis de Fontenay. He was squat, 
mean, vindictive little man who drank, slept with any random skank who looked at him twice all while 
physically abusing his young wife. He was a piece of work--he insisted on leaving the Spanish court when 
they ridiculed him, abandoned Therese in Paris while he chased other women, spent every single penny of 
his wife's considerable dowry, and finally dragged his wife and son to Bordeaux, where he promptly divorced 
Therese--but not before he made her give him all of her jewels. Then he abandoned Therese once more and took 
off into exile. Good freaking riddance.The only good things which came from such an awful union were her 
formal presentation at Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's court at Versailles, and secondly her son, 
Devin-Theodore de Fontenay (whose real father was probably Felix Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, the current
 love interest of Therese when she got pregnant. All the better for him!) 


 A decent sketch of Therese that looks like it could be from the 1790's, when all this was taking place.
 She wears a curly blonde wig and a jaunty, wide-brimmed riding hat, the bouncing feathers in it reminding 
me of something Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire would wear. Her features look lively, alert, as if she's ready 
for her riding lesson! 
At least Therese didn't break under all the stress. While Devin was out chasing tush and gambling his wife's 
dowry away, Therese became interested in Revolutionary politics--she belonged to the Club of 1789, she 
attended the Fete de la Federation, received Revolutionary figures like Lafayette and Felix and Michel Le Peletier
 de Saint-Fargeau. These last two made a lasting impression on her with their ideas about reform and education,
 and she took up the issue of educational reform when she lived in Bordeaux too! They kept Therese from 
becoming yet another simpering, spoiled aristocratic girl.

 Here's a horrible reproduction of a portrait of Felix Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau, Therese's lover when 
she lived in Paris in the late 1780's. I have no information on this portrait, other than the fact that I searched 
for this for HOURS and I'm not even positive this isn't Michel Le Peletier instead--Felix's brother. I'm guessing
 it was done in the 1790's (the high, stiff collar is a dead giveaway) 
But this guy's nose. O.M.G. It looks like it was pulled upward with a pair of tweezers. Wow. 

Of course, all of this came to an abrupt halt when she had to leave for Bordeaux, and was imprisoned after her
 husband took off. But when she wrote to the deputy from Paris stationed in Bordeaux and overseeing the
 prisoners, asking him to please release her or let her explain what happened, everything changed for Therese. 
The man she wrote to was a young, idealistic Revolutionary named Jean-Lambert Tallien, and he not only 
agreed to meet with Therese, but he fell almost instantly head over heels in love with her.


  An engraving of Tallien. Again with the noses!! He's not exactly handsome, but he looks like he's full of 
fire and life! Ready to bat for the Revolutionary cause! 
 Almost immediately, Therese became his mistress and moved in with him. Brilliant move! Now she was safe 
from imprisonment, as was her son, and she had a powerful protector she could influence. This was what the 
dramatic, theatrical Therese had always been waiting for!  She firmly believed that she had been destined to 
play a defining role on the political stage, and here was her opportunity held up on a silver platter. To this 
end she overlooked Tallien's glaring deficiencies--he drank, he yelled, he was incapable of making a decision
 or being firm in any way--in order to taste a little power herself. 

 LOVE LOVE LOVE this portrait of Therese, from about 1795, by Jacques-Louis David. She looks both
 calm and playful here. It kinda looks like she has a flat nose? They're not 100% positive that this is even 
Therese, but it probably is. Her dress is in the full-on Neoclassical, Greek Revival style that was fast becoming 
so popular all over Paris--and soon, all of Europe and America. Therese's dress is knotted at the shoulders, 
baring her ivory-colored limbs to the freezing Parisian air! Unheard of! The pretty grey-blue sash around her 
waist perfectly compliments the dainty ribbon that wraps around her bouncy curls. Her orangey shawl is very, 
very neoclassical, with that simple curvy border that was so popular. These beautiful shawls, mandatory in 
every portrait, were made of fine Indian cashmere, or even light linen or muslin. They were eeeeeeexpensive!
 But so worth it!

In Bordeaux, Therese thought with her heart and rarely with her head. She secured the release of any prisoner 
who pleaded their case to her, even going so far as to befriend the snotty Lucy de la Tour du Pin, in Bordeaux 
hiding from the Revolutionaries who sought her and her family. Therese secured the haughty former noble a 
passport so she could escape to America to join her husband, leaving Lucy disdainfully awed. Therese worked 
her magical, persuasive charm on Tallien's secretary so that he would sign the release papers of the prisoners 
she was fighting for--passports, prison release forms, anything and everything. Women, children, former 
deputies, soldiers, politicians--Therese saved them all, rich and poor, royalist or jacobin, and always in
 dramatic, cinema-worthy fashion, to the point where people started calling her 'Notre Dame de Bon Secours' 
(Our lady of good assistance). Then she wrote pamphlets on Rousseau-esque ideas for Revolutionary children's education, enlisting the reluctant Tallien to read her pamphlets to crowds and deputies. However, when word 
reached Paris that Tallien was being bossed around about by his beautiful, headstrong mistress, Robespierre, 
who both hated and feared Therese for existing, being beautiful, and turning him down years prior, had her 
tracked down and tossed into first La Force prison, and then Les Carmes. 

So I originally wanted to post this lovely, symbolic portrait of Therese in 1794 as she sits in Les Carmes prison,
 but for some reason blogger won't let me! So here is a link to it:
In this portrait, Therese sits in prison, waiting to be called to the guillotine, holding her beautiful curly tresses 
in her hand (prisoners had their hair cut off in gruesome preparation for their trip to the guillotine. The hairdo 
actually became very popular after the fall of the Terror, oddly enough.) She's dressed in a modest white gown 
with a drawstring top--no hints of cleavage here. Behind her on the wall is a sketch of her lover, Tallien, who 
was trying to get her out of prison. Supposedly in this portrait she is dreaming of him (she does have a dreamy, 
far-off look in her eyes?) Therese said that rats who lived in the prison cells would come out and nibble on her 
ankles and toes in the middle of the night in Les Carmes--but rather than shamefully hide the scars the mices
 little teeth left, she displayed them proudly, wearing gold chain anklets and bright jewel-colored toe rings that
 actually drew attention to her scarred feet instead!
So instead of rambling on, I will end my first post on Therese here! The next post will be all about Therese
 during the Directory period and her influence on fashion, society, and everyone she knew. Stay tuned :)

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